No doubt you are following the news from the Middle East. Last week, we had a long discussion in my writers’ group and the question arose: “So what can we do?” There doesn’t seem to be a solution to the unending hatred between Israel and the Palestinians.
I proposed that there is a solution. It’s called the Gospel. It’s the good news that we as Christians are authorized to take to all the world. This message can transform hearts. Imagine the possibilities if Palestinians and Israelis heard and truly responded to the Gospel.
Brother Andrew took the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8) seriously. That was why he preached to various extremist groups, including Hamas. In March, 1994, he delivered the Gospel to 400 members of Hamas at the cultural center in the heart of Gaza City. He had met many of them the previous year at Marj al-Zohour in southern Lebanon. Briefly, here is what happened, as recorded in our book Light Force:
There were several speeches, most of them concentrating on politics, before I was invited to speak….
I stood up and for a moment was deeply moved by all of the men waiting to hear my words. The last time I was with them, I’d been sitting on a tent floor sharing a meal. Now I was feeding them and hoping to leave them with something of much greater worth than physical food.
“I’m not here as a politician. Rather, I am here as one who seeks to understand what you are feeling.” … I felt it was important that these men understand that I identified with them, so that I could present the gospel. With that in mind, I began to tell them my own story.
“Many years ago, when I was only 20 years old, I lay in a hospital bed in Indonesia, where I’d been sent as a soldier to put down an uprising. A bullet had torn apart my ankle. I was alone, in pain, aching to go home to my family. I had no one to turn to, no one to fill the lonely days and even lonelier nights…. It was then that I began to read a little book my mother had given me when I left home.”
I held up a copy of the Bible and admitted that I had not wanted to receive that gift, and in fact I had buried it at the bottom of my trunk. “But now, in the hospital with nothing else to do, I began to read, starting in Genesis with the story of creation. I read all of the stories and skipped over the laws and prophets. After a couple of weeks I started reading the Gospels and was struck by their deep significance. The person of Jesus was unlike any man who had ever lived. His story was so incredible that I wondered, ‘Could this really be true?’”
Then I told the men about how Jesus died on the cross. I told them about the resurrection and the offer He made to come into my life, to forgive my sins, to change me into a new man. “I finally cried out to God in this simple prayer: ‘Lord Jesus, if You will show me the way, I will follow You.’
“I couldn’t change my circumstances,” I told the men as I concluded my testimony. “I still limped from my war wound, and I knew I might never walk normally again. I didn’t know what my future held, but for the first time I had peace. And I learned that anyone who comes to Jesus can have that peace. It’s a peace that rises above the circumstances.
“I can’t change the situation you face here in Gaza. I can’t solve the problems you have with your enemies. But I can offer you the One who is called the Prince of Peace. You cannot have real peace without Jesus. And you cannot experience Him without forgiveness. He offers to forgive us of all our sins…. He forgave me and made me a new person.”
After delivering this message Brother Andrew handed out Bibles and Gospel tracts in Arabic. He received an invitation to lecture on “What is Real Christianity” at the Islamic University in Gaza. We continued to meet with leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad every time we were in Gaza.
But much more was needed. I thought of Jesus saying that the harvest was plentiful but the laborers were few. “Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38).
Brother Andrew: …. For some reason God had sent me to speak to Hamas, to offer them a way to deal with the rage in their hearts, to show them God’s answer through the person of His Son. But I couldn’t force them to listen. If God couldn’t turn Cain away from his murderous course, then I certainly had no power to change Hamas hearts.
At least I had gone to them, taking the way that was open to me. I had done what I could, but it wasn’t enough.
My prayer is for more laborers to present the Gospel to both sides. I pray for a great harvest and for changed hearts. Will you join me in that prayer?
Excerpts from Brother Andrew and Al Janssen, Light Force: a Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire, (Revell © 2004) pp. 183-185, 190.
You can learn more about fearless evangelism in our latest book, Fearless by Faith.